Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Will the Delta catch soccer fever?

CUTLINE: Delta State soccer coach Jim Allen.

GREENVILLE —  An estimated 250,000 soccer fans flocked to South Africa this year for the World Cup.
Reportedly, nearly $5 billion in revenue was collected.
And 750 million people tuned in to watch the once-every-four-year phenomenon.
Put these numbers in perspective: About 155 million people watched Argentina upend Mexico, and another 20 million witnessed Ghana snatch the Americans dream in overtime, knocking them out of the tournament. The World Cup Final topped both of those, however, drawing in 24.3 million American viewers last Sunday.
But what does this all mean? Has soccer finally took center stage with the "big boys" of sports? Or is soccer just a month-long fad, and a prelude to "real" football?
And will it ever take off in the Delta?
Washington School and Delta State soccer coach Jim Allen thinks with several changes, anything is possible.
"If (the Delta) ever gets the time and staffing where we can set up a soccer academy and indoor facility, it may happen," said Allen, who once also coached boys soccer at Greenville-Weston High, which recently suspended its soccer program due to a $163,000 cut in the athletic budget.
One issue that may be stunting the growth of soccer in the Delta is the lack of public schools with soccer programs. GWHS recently suspended its soccer program, while smaller area schools Riverside, O'Bannon, Leland don't field soccer teams.
St. Joseph and Washington School, both private institutions, are one of the few Greenville area schools with a soccer program.
St. Joseph soccer coach Wade Chambers said the population decline the Delta, and lack of finances may be the culprit. Overall, the Delta has lost about 10 percent of its population in recent years, including about a 6,000 decrease in Greenville from 2000 to 2007.
"The population decline (in the Delta) really hurt," said Chambers, whose daughter plays on a summer traveling soccer team. "And this is traditionally a football, baseball and basketball state. St. Joseph, who competes against public schools, played in the 2005 girls soccer championship, but fell to Our Lady Academy in the championship game.
"And finances may be a problem, but then again, parents find the money for other sports, like AAU (basketball) teams," Chambers added.
Another dent in the chances soccer catches on the collegiate ranks is the competition level. Delta soccer players are usually beginners, while out of state opponents have a passion that runs deep, said Allen.
"We compete against a lot of international players who are 22 or 23 years old and come from bigger cities, and they've been playing since they were 4 or 5 years old," said Allen, who has coached both boys and girls soccer at DSU since 2003.
"It's tough for kids coming out of area schools, who have only played during their high school years, two or three months a year."
Competition level and high cost may be a problem, but also diversity plays a role, said Chambers. Approximately 70 percent of Greenville residents are African-American, so for the city and area to catch "soccer fever," African-Americans will have to become interested.
"For soccer to catch on, it's going to have to become popular among African-Americans," said Chambers.
But Chambers said, despite the current lack of interest in the Delta, soccer will remain a part of the area.
"We might see young parents, who once played soccer, with young kids. They may bring (soccer) back."

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